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Literature / The Discreet Princess

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L'Adroite Princesse ou les Aventures de Finette (The Discreet princess, or The adventures of Finetta - Finette in other translations) is a 1696 French fairy tale by Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier de Villandon (1664-1734), Charles Perrault's niece. The story tells of a king who went to fight in a Crusade, leaving behind his three daughters, locked in a tower.

The daughters are called (no real names are known) Nonchalante (Dronilla; the lazy one), Babillarde (The Babbler; or Pratilla), and Finette. Each one is given a glass distaff which is enchanted to break apart as soon as the princess acts dishonorably.

An evil prince from a neighboring country, called Riche-Cautèle (Rich-Craft), has a grudge against the royal family, so he decides to strike against them. And off he sets…

Tropes found in The Discreet Princess include:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Nobody likes Rich-Craft except for his brother and father.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Once the people learn Rich-Craft is dying and Bel-à-Voir shall inherit the throne.
  • Berserk Button: Rich-Craft seems to care less about his injuries, and more about being outdone by Finette.
  • Bowdlerise: One variant of the tale has the prince beating up the two older princesses instead of seducing them. This arguably makes the storyline so much worse, since while having a daughter effectively Locked Away in a Monastery would still be somewhat understandable for a modern reader in case of seduction and pregnancy, doing the same for simply letting a man (dressed as a female beggar, no less) into the house would be too much even by 17th century standards.
  • The Casanova: Seducing two princesses in as many days.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Rich-Craft attempts to kill Finette by putting her in a barrel filled with blades and rolling it down a mountain. She manages to push him in instead.
  • Disguised in Drag: How Rich-Craft manages to get into the tower.
  • Down the Drain: How Finette gets rid of Rich-Craft the first time.
  • The Evil Prince: Rich-Craft.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Finette plays the part when Rich-Craft intends to kill her. It makes him so angry that he grows careless enough for her to turn the tables.
  • Girl in the Tower: For their own good, in this case. Doesn't help that much.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Rich-Craft intends to roll Finette down a mountain in a barrel full of blades. She pushes him in instead.
  • Last Request: Rich-Craft asks his brother to marry Finette and kill her
  • Lazy Bum: Dronilla.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Rich-Craft is the one behind his father.
  • Motor Mouth: Pratilla.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Bel-à-Voir, once he stabs Finette’s Sleeping Dummy.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Not a single character’s real name is known.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Arranged by the villain, no less.
  • Prince Charming: Bel-à-Voir.
  • Properly Paranoid: Finette. In fact, that’s one of the two explicitely stated Aesops in the story.
  • Sleeping Dummy: Finette uses one suspecting (correctly) that Bel-à-Voir might have ulterior motives in the marriage.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Finette, when smuggling her nephews to their father
  • Too Dumb to Live: The two older princesses. Rich-Craft turns out to be one as well in the end, when turning his back on Finette while inspecting a barrel full of blades which he intended to use to kill her.
  • Wacky Cravings: Rich-Craft draws Finette out of the tower by leaving some fruit under the windows and knowing her sisters will beg her to get it.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Finette and Bel-à-Voir are both the younger children.

Alternative Title(s): The Discreet Princess Or The Adventures Of Finette, The Discreet Princess Or The Adventures Of Finetta